09/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How The Television Saved My Life

For a person who doesn't own a television, I sure watch a lot of TV. I gave up my set years ago in exchange for a more peaceful home and the ability to actually get things done. But TVs are everywhere these days and it seems impossible to escape the ubiquity of their presence in my daily life.

Today, for instance, I watched hours of TV without even trying. This morning I went to the gym, where I had the choice of staring straight ahead into my own personal treadmill TV screen, or up at a firing squad of ten consecutive televisions all tuned to competing channels. Now what I really like to do when I exercise is look out the window, or pick a point on the wall to rest my eyes as I focus on breathing and being present. This is an impossible dream at my gym because of the visual cacophony bared before me. Instead, I watched shrill men and women argue about politics like a lovers spat, twentyish reality show contestants ponder the tribulations of love, people on a game show answer questions like "What is the price of Rice-a-Roni?" and a photogenic court judge wittily reprimand a string of sulking defendants on their erstwhile behavior. This is a very different experience than thinking about breathing and being present.

Thanks to the Transit Entertainment Network, the cab ride home from the gym confirmed that my initial morning TV injection would sustain itself as an IV drip throughout the day. Though the ride could have been a brief respite of watching the world through my window, what I really did was find out about the proper way to apply under-eye concealer and the latest "so great" vacation spot that all the celebrities adore--potentially helpful information, I suppose, but definitely unsolicited.

Next came the dentist's office waiting room, with chairs lined up towards the TV (tuned to CNN) like church pews facing an altar. After that the lunch bar in a fancy department store flaunted mini TV's (golf was on) at every other seat--- and finally, my ultimate television bonanza occurred on the evening flight from New York to Los Angeles. I was on an airplane for two hundred people and we each had our own personal screen set into the back of the chair in front of us. There I was, with two hundred tiny TVs merrily winking their programs non-stop for six hours straight. I could turn mine off--of course--but not my neighbors. I was surrounded.

It's not that I dislike The Set all that much. There's so much to love inside the big plastic frame. All of life's struggles and love's battles are right there on 24-hour display. It isn't that I don't like to watch the beautiful people in beautiful places doing beautiful things... I do. I gave up my TV because I asked myself one day, 'If I spend all my time watching other people's dreams, when do I get to live my own?' And I've been trying to answer that question ever since.